Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi and other Natural Wonders

The Coral Reef - Lake Village, Indiana

Located northeast of Lake Village, IN

Coral Reef

Russel Neswick began building concrete sculptures over 15 years ago after seeing a magazine article about how to construct "ferro concrete" flower pots of concrete with an interior support of fabric, metal or any solid object. After building some small planters, he decided to attempt a large sculpture of a concrete elephant. Pleased with the result, he discovered he enjoyed the process and wanted to create.

Neswick is a retired lawyer and had no previous experience in making art or sculpture, but shares his secrets as an artist in his book Anyone? A Sculptor! The self-published how-to book guides the reader in building with concrete and captures the enthusiasm and confidence Neswick brings to his work.

In about 2001, Neswick started working on an outdoor sculpture garden called "The Coral Reef" sited on several acres of forest bottomland along the Kankakee River on the grounds of a hunting club. Scattered in the dense woodland are seventy-six "islands" or groups of small concrete tableaus depicting sea creatures, fishes, reptiles and mythological creatures. Some of the sculptures are modeled on real animals, such as a painted clownfish and a sea anemone made from a mop, while others are wildly fantastical creatures incorporating plastic toys as heads or arms and legs into sculpted concrete bodies. Hybrid pop culture creatures with Disney faces and weathered bodies provide a colorful peekaboo sense of humor in the Coral Reef. Rubber fish hang from the trees as if swimming above the ocean floor.

Narrow tracks lead us through the dense jungle of ferns and mosquitoes among the reefs of small creatures to an area of larger creations. Largest of all is a huge whale sculpture built over the body of an old car entirely encased in concrete. Past here the trail wanders back to the main road, but in other clumps of creatures are barely visible beyond in the forest, such as a small scale Lost World of toy dinosaurs embedded in cement atop a stump like a mini volcano. Other trails lead off to a clearing around a six-foot penguin like some unexplained idol of the arctic lost in the midwestern woods.

I don't know if a visit to a real tropical coral reef inspired Neswick's colorful little world, but walking through the forest with camera in hand is indeed reminiscent of leisurely snorkelling over an ocean reef, drifting with the current and observing a charming and mysterious world.

Russel Neswick website

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